Curry declares himself the rookie to beat

OAKLAND, Calif. – Stephen Curry(notes) knows Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson is famously tough on rookies. Curry also knows his college exploits will only make him a target for NBA veterans hungry to beat up on a wispy 21-year-old. And, yes, he understands that adjusting to life in the league far away from the only home he’s ever known carries its own pressure.

But Stephen Curry also doesn’t care.

“I think I will be Rookie of the Year,” he said. “I have that kind of confidence in myself. … I’m not afraid to say it.”

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Those are high expectations for someone who shot only 32.5 percent for the Warriors’ summer league team. Curry, however, has never lacked for self-esteem. As the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, he guided Davidson to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1969. Curry then led the nation in scoring as a junior before Golden State took him with the seventh pick in the draft.

In an effort to improve his game, Curry spent the offseason traveling the country with trainer Idan Ravin to practice against some of the league’s elite players, including Chris Paul(notes), Carmelo Anthony(notes) and Joe Johnson(notes).

“If you want to be the best,” Dell Curry said, “you have to work out and train with the best.”

Stephen Curry transitioned to point guard during his junior season at Davidson, so his workouts with Paul held the greatest value. Paul mentored him on his moves and decision-making.

“It’s more of just a feel when you’re in the game,” Curry said. “He knows how to be effective on the court with the dribble, which is what I’m trying to learn now, using ball screens and all that kind of stuff.”

While Curry is confident he can make an immediate impact, he knows there will be some challenges awaiting him with the Warriors. Nelson usually isn’t generous with playing time for rookies. Curry talked to Anthony Randolph(notes) and Anthony Morrow(notes) about their ups and downs last season.

“They say it was tough, but if [Nelson] is not being tough on you then you have problems because he doesn’t see potential in you,” Curry said. “If he’s out there pushing you as much as he can, making it tough on you in practice trying to get the best out of you then that’s a good sign. If you take [criticism] well and work on your game, than your time will come.”

The good news for Curry is Nelson has already quietly compared him to Steve Nash(notes). The Warriors’ run-and-gun offense also seems tailor-made for him. The question: Will there be room for both Curry and Monta Ellis(notes), Golden State’s other talented, young combo guard?

Already, there has been speculation Ellis isn’t happy about the addition of another guard. Warriors officials have denied that’s the case, but neither Ellis nor Stephen Jackson(notes), Golden State’s disgruntled team captain, has reached out to Curry since he was drafted. Still, Curry is hopeful he and Ellis can co-exist and benefit each other.

“We both offer something to the team,” Curry said. “He’s proven that. I hope to prove that this year. It will be a good combo to have. It will be pretty explosive.”

And if they are? Eight months from now, Curry thinks you’ll be calling him Rookie of the Year.

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